This starts out slow, but bear with me and I think you'll agree it gets better.
I have been planning this tour of Europe for 6 months, and I could have prepared myself by learning to speak the languages I would encounter. I didn't even try because it seemed such an overwhelming job. I needed French, German, Italian, Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish, Portuguese and Spanish.
It seemed impossible to become conversant in any, let alone all, of these languages, and I gave in to the temptation to believe that most of the people would know English and that I could get by. And it is true that you will not starve or go without shelter or be able to find your way home if you don't know the local language. You can survive.
It is easy to believe that a language barrier would exist. What I have found is that ANY barrier we perceive, in ANY aspect of life, is negotiable. That is, any barrier we perceive is put there by us. We choose to perceive a barrier, for whatever reason, because it suits us. Just as easily, we can choose to perceive NO BARRIER. This philosophy is at the core of my beliefs. Our reality is the result of what we have chosen for ourselves. Our present state is the result of our continuing to choose that state. Our future will be the way we choose it to be.
Returning to the subject at hand, "The Language Barrier": it does not exist except that we choose it to exist.
What I am learning is that the best way to deal with the "problem" of not knowing the local language is also the best way to communicate in one's native language:
1. Eye contact. Essential for personal communication.
2. Smile. Creates positive physical changes and receptivity.
3. Tone. The sound of your voice is far more important than words used.
4. Generous and sincere spirit.
5. Sign, and body language. Occurs naturally, common to all languages.
6. Universal words. For example: "OK", "Champagne", "Yes", "No", etc.
7. Use of a common third language when needed or desirable.
The practical aspects of what I have learned about communication were very clearly demonstrated to me last night. I found myself dealing with an Italian person who spoke absolutely no English, and of course I speak absolutely no Italian. It was of the utmost desirability for me to communicate and I also perceived that there was a very high desire on her part to communicate but we were both initially blocked by the deadly imagined "Language Barrier".
We had both successfully passed through steps #1 and #2 above and this had created the mutual state-of-being for further successful communication. It occurred to me that Tone (#3) was essential so I just started talking English using some of the best tones I could create, some of which have unquestionably universal understanding. You may laugh at just how rediculous it might seem, but we were having a full blown conversation in two different languages, neither of us understanding a word spoken by the other, and yet the tones were unmistakable, so the words were irrelevent. We were in a local disco at the time, so it was simple and obvious to demonstrate my generous and sincere spirit (#4) by offering, using sign language (#5), a gift which would help ease her thirst. We continued to converse with lots of #3 and #5, which was facilitated by music and dance (#7). After several more demonstrations of #4, and lots of #1, #2, #3, and #5, we were finding that there were a surprising number of universal words (#6) which were creeping into our otherwise completely unintelligible vocabulary exchange. It was about this time that I discovered the use of a third common language (#7), even though neither of us knew very much Spanish. However it brought a new richness to our dialog. We could now understand about one word for every several hundred spoken. It was about this time that I noticed a gold ring on the third finger of her left hand, and from the depths what little I remembered of my high school Spanish class, I asked "Esposa?" (Husband?). When she replied with two universal words (#6) "No Problem", I was struck with the thought that in these Latin countries crimes of passion (murdering a spouse's lover and/or the spouse) are not very seriously punished, in fact they are even expected in some cases. At that point, my desire to continue this very successful communication faded and I found other handy opportunities to experiment in linguistics.
To summarize, I can assure you that based on my own personal experience, it is not necessary to study the language in order to communicate in a foreign country. And I wholeheartedly encourage you to try these fun experiments for yourself as soon as you have the opportunity.
For your viewing pleasure today, I have enclosed a photo of the enclave of Porto Cervo, as seen from my hotel room balcony.